Tips for Lean Managers

Small Companies Playing With Big Company Rules

By Jon Miller Published on October 17th, 2005

This is something I’ve noticed with a few of the sites I’ve been visiting lately. They are all part of a huge global, well-respected company and yet the Lean implementation is not as robust as we would like to see it.
A lot of us are familiar with the phrase “a lack of resources” – normally referring to people to do some work. I’d like you to think of some fictitious company. They are big and want to do Lean. I’d like for you to pretend that you are their Lean Implementer. What does Lean look like for them? I mean, what can you see? What should you have?
Should we have some Visual Management boards? (In case you were wondering, the answer is YES) What about metrics – should they be on there? (YES) What metrics? Quality, Cost, Delivery, Safety, Morale, and maybe some other funky metric we decide applies to this area? Should we include those? (YES) This may sound like a dumb question, but the more Visual Management boards, like one per cell the better right? (Right!)
OK… What about Value Stream Maps? (YES YES!) Current? (YES) Future? (YES) We should have one for each of our value streams right (Of Course!) Would we like them done in VISIO afterwards? (Well, yeah!) And I’m guessing we should print out as colored banners and laminate them too right? (Yeah!!)
All-righty then. I guess we should bang out our Lean implementation plan too shouldn’t we? (You bet!) How detailed? (As close to the Nth degree would be best) You mean a bigger plan with lots of PowerPoint? (Now you’re getting the idea! My boss will love that!)
I’ve heard that we should do 5S since it’s the basic of Lean. Are we interested in doing that? (YES) I guess we should take time to make a 5S audit shouldn’t we? (Uh-huh) Would 50 questions per area be a little too sketchy? (Yeah, make it 75 or so)
Now, imagine that you only have 100people in your plant and you can only do 2 things out of the 15 you just agreed to do. What do you do to keep your job?
This is a trap a lot of Lean managers at production sites owned by big companies fall into. Since the company is big, they want it all. (VM boards, laminated VSMs, you name it) because in their mind the resources are there. “Hey, we are $X Billion, we are not going to go half way. We’ll do everything!” is the thinking. In reality, however, the production site is more like a small company, they don’t have the resources to do all that is planned.
The answer for the Lean Implementer then becomes: “I will do what is most visible to management” e.g. boards, and hence the lack of the most important nearly invisible tasks such as training people, and making meaningful, if not pretty changes in the work area.
When we train management on the principles of Lean, we help combat this issue. We help them see that Flow is more important than boards posted up. Now they have something else to look for when they go to the shop floor instead of the boards.

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